Tech Monday

A little rant about SharePoint

For those of you who have never encountered Microsoft SharePoint, consider yourself very lucky indeed.

A bit of history.  When I took over IT here, we had a very basic Health and Safety intranet and nothing else.  It wasn’t really even an intranet, didn’t run on a web server, nothing.  Within a year we had a very nice Drupal Intranet running our forms, health and safety, library information, photo galleries, stuff like that.  Very good, very functional, very nice.  Trouble was, no-one could really wrap their head around the fact that this web page could be a master document.  So instead of working within the version control and revision moderation system that was built in, people would be copying and pasting chunks of text from Word documents that they still (somehow) trusted more than my nice, shiny, web pages.  And the resulting MS Bloat had me correcting pages frequently.  Or, more often than not, “John, could you just update…” and doing the job myself.

Fast forward a year or so back.  Someone went on an introduction to SharePoint training course and came back convinced that it was the way forward.

Yes, so it’ll cost thousands and do exactly the same as the Drupal Intranet does for free.  The advantage is it integrates with Microsoft Office!  Everything can be done as Word documents!  Whoop-de-bloody-do.  Back to extra clicks and warnings about things not being checked out before you can read the policy about leave.  Great.  Anyway, ours is not to reason why and all that jazz.

One complicated installation later, two Windows 2008 R2 servers that took a couple of days to set up (I can have a Linux server up, running, and fully functional in under half an hour) and SharePoint is working.  But they don’t like the lists and folders.  They think a graphical interface is a nicer way to navigate things.  Fine.  See above about not reasoning why.  It’s in.  Visio diagrams that you can’t bookmark links from, can’t refresh without resetting everything.  Let’s see what the usability survey has to say about that.

Fast forward to now.  People in the right places are starting to see the potential of SharePoint, the fact that it can do a whole lot more than just hold documents.  Workflows.  Triggered events.  That sort of thing.  Exchange integration (“John, can you move our email across to Exchange?”  Not without the training and a whole lot of time and effort!).  So now I’m looking at rebuilding the first of several crumbling Access XP databases into SharePoint.  And bloody hell is there a lot of hassle here!

First off, there’s the obscure security that whoever designed these bloody databases put in place.  I’m not allowed to edit form designs, change table designs, anything useful.  And the macros they’ve got running on start-up hide everything useful from the users.  Goodness knows how much they paid to get these things written in the first place.

Secondly, they’re blithely doing things that SharePoint finds difficult – if not impossible.  For instance.  There’s a waiting list for courses.  You can send letters to people on a waiting list when you decide to run that course.  A horrible chunk of VBA code steps through a Word document line by line inserting text like an old typewriter being used to fill in a form.  SharePoint, it seems, can’t do this.  Doesn’t know how to even store a document inside a list the way Access will store it inside a field in the database.  It was at this point that my head exploded and I had to start all over again.

Right now I’m ignoring the letters, concentrating on getting the rest of the logic (if that’s the right word for it) working.  If anyone knows a simple way to mail-merge based off an attachment to a SharePoint list item, please let me know.  Til then, I’ll carry on cursing the day they invented Microsoft Access.

Rant over.  I now return you to your regularly scheduled Monday.

Tech Monday

#TechMonday – Could I work without the Internet? (SOLVED)

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

Not sure.  Let me just Google that, see what it says.

Let’s just say I’m not sure I could do my job without it.

Here I am, half of the IT department, and the Users expect me to know the intricacies of each and every piece of software on their machine.  Functions in Excel so arcane and convoluted that they’re the only person within 1000 miles who’s actually using them.  ArcGIS?  Yes, I installed it for you but no, I have no idea how to do anything with it!

So when someone phones up with a problem, a “How do I do x in this program?” I’ve got a browser open in front of me and I’m putting to good use something I learned during GCSE English – touch typing.  My English teacher told me that my handwriting was dreadful and I should do something about it.  I did.  I took a night class in touch typing and can now (on a good day) hammer words out at around 60 – 70 words per minute.  I may have mentioned this before.

Almost before they’ve finished their sentence, or reading out the error message on screen, I’ve got a browser full of answers that I can either very quickly give them an answer or give them my standard “Hmmm.  Give me 5 minutes and I’ll come round.”  Worst case scenario I can either assure them that they’re not alone in having this particular issue or compliment them on having a problem/scenario so strange that no-one else in the entire world has encountered it.

My Google-Fu is pretty good, I can solve most stuff pretty quickly.  If I’ve phrased the question right, or if the problem is common enough, the first couple of links can be enough to deliver a complete solution in a box.  Which leads me to believe that others could do this as well.  But they don’t.  It’s easier for them to phone/email me.    If everyone had good enough Google-Fu, a large part of my job would be removed.

Anyway, could I work without the internet?  No.  The wealth of online documentation, the resources available for solving problems and the time wasting power usefulness of Twitter/Facebook/Google+/etc. mean I spend more of my day on the internet than off it, and that’s including time spent at home.

One final tip – when you’re searching for a solution to a problem, add the word “Solved” to the end of the search.  That should filter out all those posts with the same question but no answers.

Enhanced by Zemanta